The Legend of Korra is one of the best animated television shows of the decade: here’s a look at all the show’s episodes, ranked from worst to best.
When The Legend of Korra debuted in the spring of 2012, it immediately established itself as a vastly different show from its predecessor, the beloved Avatar: The Last Airbender. Set seventy years after the events of Avatar, the series follows Korra, a 17-year-old, headstrong Avatar from the Southern Water Tribe, as she navigates the challenges and responsibilities of being the Avatar while trying to keep the physical and spiritual worlds safe.
Originally conceived as a 12-episode miniseries before being expanded to a 52-episode, four season show, Legend of Korra is a more mature, darker show than its predecessor, one that isn’t afraid to tackle weighty themes, address sociopolitical issues, and push boundaries with its portrayals of gender roles and sexual orientation, all under the guise of youth-oriented entertainment. It never pandered to its younger audience, trusting them to engage with its mature subject matter, all while still packing in enough well-written humour and thrilling action to keep things entertaining.
Although it had some stumbles along the way, (and a fair share of backlash over the years), Legend of Korra still stands not just as a fine achievement in children’s media, but as one of the best and most vital television shows of the decade, and a more than worthy continuation of Avatar’s legacy.
So, in honor of the series’ impending Netflix premiere on August 14th, here is every episode of The Legend of Korra, ranked from worst to best.
Also, SPOILERS, obviously.
Book 2, Chapter 5
Let’s get one thing out of the way: Book Two of Legend of Korra is the worst thing in the entire Avatar universe, with the first half of the season being particularly rough. Now, that isn’t to say that all of it is bad, (you might even find some of its episodes towards the top of this list), but overall, a weak villain, nonsensical subplots and some major pacing problems drag the whole thing down. All of these weaknesses are on full display in the worst episode of the entire show (if not the entire franchise – looking at you, “The Great Divide”), “Peacekeepers”.
It’s back to the old stomping grounds of Republic City as Korra attempts to convince President Raiko to send the United Forces to assist the southern rebels. This episode is all over the place, with at least four different plot threads all vying for time. It’s clear the writers didn’t know what to do with Bolin in the first half of Book Two, as they relegate him to a mostly unrelated subplot where Varrick attempts to turn him into a “mover star”.
Meanwhile, Mako, now a cop, is embroiled in an investigation plot related to the Triple Threat Triads. That’s all fine and good, but what’s inexplicable is Mako’s decision to betray Korra to President Raiko, and when she confronts him about it, to break up with her in the middle of the police station. They were never the healthiest of couples to begin with, but the way their relationship ended was truly out of character. Elsewhere, Tenzin spends the episode trying to instruct Meelo in how to be a good teacher, and while it’s funny that Meelo ends up with a horde of lemurs under his control, the whole plot thread feels tacked on, as if the writers forgot to include them in the episode and threw them in at the last minute.
51. THE STING
Book 2, Chapter 6
After the Southern Water Tribe Cultural Center is bombed and Varrick’s ships are attacked, Mako and Asami join forces with the Triads to pull off a sting operation with the hopes of capturing those responsible. But, as criminals are wont to do, the Triads betray them, and someone makes off with Asami’s stock. The episode ends with Korra waking up on an unknown island, having seemingly lost her memory, after being swallowed by a Big Spirit Boi at the end of the previous episode. While Varrick being set up as a minor antagonist is a nice twist, it seems as if the writers have mostly forgotten about Unalaq, who is just chilling in the South Pole saying ominous things ominously without actually doing anything. It’s an issue that plagues Book Two overall, as Unalaq just doesn’t feel like an overwhelming presence in the way that Amon did in Book One.
Book 4, Chapter 8
I originally had this episode ranked dead last, but once I read this message from co-creator Bryan Konietzko, it felt unfair to pile on. The TL; DR version is that Nickelodeon unexpectedly slashed the budget for Book Four by about a whole episode’s worth, so the creators had the choice to either lay off their crew or make a “clip show” episode. It’s incredibly sad and frustrating that the creative team was put in that position in the first place and is emblematic of the disservice done to Korra’s later seasons in general. At least we got the Fearsome Foursome conference call out of it, (and some very much deserved Unalaq mocking).
49. REBEL SPIRIT
Book 2, Chapter 1
Book Two gets off to a middling start with this episode, which sees Team Avatar relocating to the Southern Water Tribe for the Glacier Spirits Festival, with plans to continue touring the various Air Temples. A smattering of new characters are introduced, from the Howard Hughes-analogue Varrick, to deadpan twins Eska and Desna, to the Chief of the Northern Water Tribe, Unalaq, who also happens to be Korra’s uncle. Unalaq insists that the Southern Water Tribe has lost their connection with the Spirit World, which is the cause of the spirit attacks we see bookending the episode. The spirit fight is effectively thrilling as the spirit dodges everything that Team Avatar throws at it, only being subdued by Unalaq. This is enough to convince Korra that Unalaq is the mentor she really needs, dismissing Tenzin as her teacher. Even though Tenzin was never a perfect mentor, it’s frustrating to see Korra mistreat him just because she thinks she’s already mastered airbending, (and sets her up to have almost the exact same arc she did in Book One.) Not only that, but the toxicity of her relationship with Mako just makes you wish that they had never gotten together in the first place.
48. NIGHT OF A THOUSAND STARS
Book 2, Chapter 11
This episode finally gives us a Team Avatar reunion and an end to the inane “Nuktuk: Hero of the South” storyline, all the while building momentum for the final confrontation with Unalaq. Bolin saves President Raiko from being kidnapped by Varrick, who finally gets thrown into prison. Despite Korra’s insistence that Unalaq is trying to destroy the world, Raiko still refuses to send the United Forces to aid the southerners. Frankly, his reasoning that, “if the world is going to be in chaos, I need the forces to protect Republic City” is flimsy at best. You wouldn’t need your forces to protect Republic City if you just sent them down there to help out, Raiko. Also, let’s talk really quick about Mako. Korra kisses him because she doesn’t remember their fight, and he tells her that it “wasn’t that bad” in front of Asami who he has started dating again! Asami deserves better than Mako’s playboy behavior, and the characters deserve better than this CW-level soapiness.
Book 4, Chapter 7
Korra finally reunites with Asami and Mako back in Republic City, and they work together to save the irritating Prince Wu after he’s captured by Kuvira’s agents. Meanwhile, Bolin and Varrick encounter some benders who were shoved into Kuvira’s prison camps, which now almost exclusively hold people of non-Earth Kingdom blood. Not every children’s show would have the guts to directly address ethnic cleansing, much less have one of the main heroes be complicit in it. Book Four does dare to deal with meaty themes that other shows on Nickelodeon wouldn’t even touch; it’s just a shame that they couldn’t have been utilized in the service of a better story, especially in the final season of the series.
46. CIVIL WARS PT. 2
Book 2, Chapter 4
The Avatar franchise is known for its generally stellar two-part episodes, but “Civil Wars Pt. 2” is the rare second part that doesn’t quite live up to the first. The complex interpersonal conflicts set up in “Civil Wars Pt.1” end up having relatively simple solutions. The southern rebels end up in a rigged trial orchestrated by Unalaq, who it turns out had set up Korra’s father to be banished so that he could become chief of the Northern Tribe some twenty years previously. The main issue with this episode is that it reveals almost all of Unalaq’s dastardly plans, and we’re only one-third of the way through the season. Korra says, “You don’t want unity, you want power,” but it’s unclear exactly why he wants power over the southern tribe in the first place. Even with the familial connection to Korra, Unalaq is just bland as a Big Bad, with obvious malicious intentions from the moment he’s introduced. However, this episode does get bonus points for including Varrick’s funniest line in the entire series, “Why do you think I built this boat?!”
45. THE GUIDE
Book 2, Chapter 9
This mostly transitional episode finds Korra reuniting with Tenzin and attempting to enter the Spirit World. While Tenzin has spent his entire life trying to connect with the spirits, he accepts that Jinora must be the one to guide Korra into the Spirit World. Back in Republic City, Mako tries to convince Asami and Bolin that Varrick is trying to start the war to make a profit off it, but Varrick plants evidence to get Mako arrested before he can convince either of them. Also, Mako is up to his playboy ways again, trying to slide with Asami even though Korra has disappeared only a week previously. Mako, I want to root for you, but you make it so difficult sometimes.
44. THE SPIRIT OF COMPETITION
Book 1, Chapter 5
A return to pro-bending after two episodes off, the Fire Ferrets are back in the ring due to a generous sponsorship from Asami’s father, famous industrialist Hiroshi Sato. However, the real focus of this episode is the various romantic entanglements between the main cast. While it’s touching when Bolin and Mako are finally able to bury the hatchet, it’s still heartbreaking when Bolin sees Mako and Korra kissing and runs away to bury his sadness in copious amounts of noodles (been there my dude). Still, this dip into rom-com territory can’t help but feel like filler, especially after Amon’s ominous threat to Korra at the end of “The Voice in the Night”.
43. SOUTHERN LIGHTS
Book 2, Chapter 2
Korra and Unalaq head down to the South Pole with her father and Team Avatar in tow, (minus Asami, inexplicably), so that they can open a spirit portal on the Winter Solstice. Korra’s dad reveals that he was banished from the North after destroying an ancient forest, which unleashed a host of angry spirits that would’ve destroyed the entire tribe if not for Unalaq. Unalaq spouts a lot of spiritual mumbo-jumbo about the importance of the portal, (truthfully, this whole season should’ve been called “Book Two: Spiritual Mumbo-Jumbo”), but it all muddles together. Still, the spirit fights are varied and well-done, and the reappearance of the Southern Lights features some beautifully iridescent animation. The best part of the episode comes when Tenzin and his family visit the Southern Air Temple, which has been restored to its former glory by a group of overeager Air Acolytes. Jinora comes across a mysterious statue that lights up when the spirit portal is opened, setting up an intriguing mystery for the episodes to come.
42. AFTER ALL THESE YEARS
Book 4, Chapter 1
Three years have passed since the end of Book 3, with Korra being gone from Republic City the entire time. Mako is the bodyguard to the Earth Kingdom’s exasperatingly extra Prince Wu, and Bolin is working for Kuvira, a Zaofu captain who now has her own army and is known as the Great Uniter. Most of the episode’s action takes place in the Earth Kingdom state of Yi, which, along with much of the Earth Kingdom, has been besieged by bandits for years following the death of the Earth Queen. Kai and Opal show up in their role as air nation peacekeepers, and it’s great to see their improved airbending skills (and new suits) in action. While Kuvira’s metalbending skills are awesome to see in action, it’s a shame that her role in the rest of the season doesn’t quite live up to the promise of her scenes here.
41. THE BATTLE OF ZAOFU
Book 4, Chapter 6
While it may not quite live up to the promise of its title, “The Battle of Zaofu” still fits in enough action and character moments to be worthwhile. Su and two of her sons infiltrate Kuvira’s camp in an attempted assassination attempt, but as my good friend Admiral Ackbar once said, “It’s a trap!”, and they’re captured. Korra confronts Kuvira, who suggests a solution to decide the fate of Zaofu: one-on-one combat. Even though the Red Lotus poison is gone, Korra is still not the fighter she once was, and gets thoroughly whupped by Kuvira. It feels like this episode was meant to be much grander before Nickelodeon slashed Book Four’s budget, and this is one of the more notable times where it feels like the season is actively working against those constraints. Still, the Kuvira/Korra fight is well-done and exciting, and Korra’s resounding defeat is an important step in her journey towards recovery.
40. THE CORONATION
Book 4, Chapter 3
Prince Wu’s big coronation day is finally here, but Kuvira has other plans; she announces the creation of a new Earth Empire, one that she will lead into the future, not the incompetent Wu. This declaration creates a rift between Mako and Bolin, who insists that Kuvira is doing what is best for her people and the rest of the world. Meanwhile, in the Foggy Swamp, Korra convinces Toph to train her back into fighting shape. It turns out that Toph’s aggressive teaching methods haven’t changed much over the past 70 years, and the ensuing montage is hilarious. It’s great to see that Toph can still earthbend with the best of them, and she even reveals to Korra that she still has fragments of the metallic Red Lotus poison inside her. Toph tries to metalbend them out of her, but Korra’s PTSD rears its ugly head every time she tries. “When you want it out, you can bend it out. I can’t deal with all your issues for you.” You tell her, Toph.
39. ORIGINAL AIRBENDERS
Book 3, Chapter 7
If there’s one important thing to keep in mind when watching Legend of Korra and ATLA, it’s this: just because it’s filler, doesn’t mean it’s bad. “Original Airbenders” is no exception, as it follows Tenzin’s increasingly exasperated attempts to get the new airbender recruits to fall in line. You’d think that after being the Avatar’s main mentor for a few months that he might have learned a thing or two, but apparently not. Side characters get their moments to shine, such as Bumi, who leads his fellow airbenders in a mission to rescue Jinora and Kai from bison poachers. Seeing the airbenders come together to protect their newfound family members is quietly powerful, as is the moment where Tenzin agrees that Jinora might be more of a master than he gives her credit for. Plus, we get more baby sky bison, which makes any episode instantly better.
38. TURNING THE TIDES
Book 1, Chapter 10
Emboldened by Amon’s capture of Tarrlok, the Equalists launch a full-scale attack on Republic City with the help of Hiroshi Sato’s airships. They attack Air Temple island as Tenzin’s wife gives birth to their new son, the adorable Rohan, and in the episode’s most emotional moment, Lin Beifong sacrifices herself to Amon so that Tenzin and his family can make it to safety. While this episode has plenty of great action moments, like Meelo literally knocking people out with his farts, it’s hampered slightly by too much of a focus on the annoying love triangle between Korra, Mako and Asami. However, this episode does give us our first glance of General Iroh, voiced by Zuko voice actor Dante Basco, whose dulcet tones are always welcome.
37. KUVIRA’S GAMBIT
Book 4, Chapter 11
It’s looking grim for Team Avatar in “Kuvira’s Gambit”, as Kuvira debuts her real superweapon: a towering mech like something out of Pacific Rim, with a devastatingly powerful arm cannon to match. She sends Baatar Jr. to negotiate Raiko’s terms of surrender, but the airbenders capture him along the way, hoping that he can tell them how to disable Kuvira’s colossus. What comes next is the episode’s most shocking moment, as Baatar radios Kuvira and pleads with her to leave the United Republic so that they can go back home and live their lives together in peace. What does Kuvira do in response? Why, she tries to blow him and the rest of Team Avatar to smithereens. It’s one helluva cliffhanger that makes it explicitly clear that Kuvira is stone cold and will do whatever it takes to make the United Republic hers.
36. ENEMY AT THE GATES
Book 4, Chapter 5
While it can’t help but feel like the preamble that it is, “Enemy at the Gates” still fits in time for some much-needed backstory and important character developments. Kuvira has arrived at Zaofu with a massive army in tow, with the hopes that it will be enough to force Su to surrender peacefully. No dice, as Su insists that she will never give up Zaofu and pleads with Korra to enter the Avatar State and destroy Kuvira’s army. Su also reveals that she treated Kuvira as if she were her own daughter, only for Kuvira to betray her after the fall of the Earth Queen. Bolin has finally come around to the error of his ways and tries to escape from Kuvira with Zhu Li and Varrick by his side, getting them into a “rock ‘em, sock ‘em robots” fight in the process. Now, Bolin has never been portrayed as the brightest bulb in the box, but it does beggar belief that he has been working for Kuvira for years and yet still has no idea about her totalitarian policies. Her soldiers are all walking around with that haircut, and you still don’t know that they’re fascists? That one’s on you, Bolin.
Also, a quick shoutout to Asami, who has been vastly underutilized since Book One, for having a tender moment of Pai Sho and reconciliation with her imprisoned father. It’s the little things.
35. IN HARM’S WAY
Book 3, Chapter 4
Zaheer finishes putting his merry band back together as he travels to a frosty northern prison to break out his girlfriend, P’Li, who has a little something in common with Sparky Sparky Boom Man, (hint: she’s also quite the fan of shooting explosions out of her forehead). Zaheer and his baddies are clearly not to be trifled with, as they make short work of Tonraq, Eska and Desna, and even Zuko and his dragon. Back in Ba Sing Se, Team Avatar (with some surprise help from Lin Beifong) manages to break the airbenders out of their Dai Li prison, including Kai, who has a sweet reunion with Jinora. Yay, Kainora!
34. THE AFTERMATH
Book 1, Chapter 7
What initially seems like is going to be a filler episode after Amon’s latest attack ends up being packed with important developments, none more so than the fact that Asami’s father Hiroshi is an Equalist that has been supplying Amon’s followers with anti-bender gadgets. Asami ends up siding with Team Avatar and betraying her father, showcasing her excellent self-defense skills in the process. The fight between the benders and Sato’s mechs is thoroughly engaging, especially once Tenzin and Lin Beifong go all out. The main flaw with the Hiroshi twist is that as viewers, we’ve barely gotten to know him outside of his introduction scene a few episodes previously. With five episodes left in the season, they could’ve given this development a little bit more breathing room to make it even more effective.
Bonus points to this episode for introducing us to Cabbage Corp, the progeny of the cabbage vendor from ATLA. “Not my Cabbage Corp!”
33. THE METAL CLAN
Book 3, Chapter 5
We get our first look at the city of Zaofu, home to the metal clan led by Suyin, Toph’s other daughter and Lin’s half-sister. Zaofu is a visual marvel, all sleek metal railways and large pods that encapsulate the city. It’s great to hear more about what happened to Toph after the events of ATLA, and Su and Lin’s fraught relationship is deliciously tense, bringing out a vulnerable side of Lin that we haven’t seen before. Meanwhile a man named Yorru, (who might as well have “It’s Zaheer!” stamped across his forehead), shows up at Air Temple Island with the hopes of finding Korra. Kya sees through his ruse, but he evades capture, making off with a necklace containing a poem about Guru Laghima, an air nomad that supposedly unlocked the ability to fly. After spending a season with Unalaq, who mostly sat around and talked about doing things without actually doing them, Zaheer’s active role in the plot is a breath of fresh air, (see what I did there, because he’s – you get it.).
32. A LEAF IN THE WIND
Book 1, Chapter 2
Korra and Tenzin butt heads in “A Leaf in the Wind”, which finds the Avatar increasingly frustrated at Tenzin’s methodical approach to teaching. Fed up with her lack of airbending progress, she steals away to the Pro-Bending Arena, where she ends up joining a team called the Fire Ferrets, headed by goofy Bolin and brooding Mako. The pro-bending matches feel like such a natural extension of the “earthbending wrestling” matches that introduced us to Toph back in ATLA that it makes you wish we had been introduced to them sooner. Pitch-perfect editing, sound mixing, cinematography, and some top-notch work from series’ composer Jeremy Zuckerman combine to make the pro-bending matches truly electrifying.
31. THE VOICE IN THE NIGHTS
Book 1, Chapter 4
A mostly dialogue-driven affair, this episode is notable for introducing audiences to slimy bureaucrat Tarrlok as well as fan-favorite Asami Sato, who immediately strikes up a romance with Mako after running into him with her moped. Meanwhile, Tarrlok uses his schmoozing powers to convince Korra to join his task force dedicated to defeating Amon. It all culminates in a terrifying moonlit confrontation in which Amon captures Korra, telling her that he will take away her bending when the time is right. “The Voice in the Night” is a fine example of Legend of Korra’s slower, more serialized approach to its storytelling than its predecessor, while still managing to keep things engaging and well-paced.
30. THE TERROR WITHIN
Book 3, Chapter 8
The conflict escalates in “The Terror Within”, which finds the Red Lotus breaking into Zaofu to attempt to kidnap Korra. The attack is incredibly tense, with Zaheer’s group of benders absolutely pummeling Team Avatar and the Zaofu guards, (that is until Bolin hits P’Li with a well-placed rock to the forehead. Is there no way to armor that?) Later, it’s revealed that Su’s adviser Aiwei helped the Red Lotus break into Zaofu. Though Aiwei’s hidden loyalties can be seen from a mile away, it’s still shocking when he tries to blow up Team Avatar during his escape. Su tasks them with tracking Aiwei down, and it’s exciting to finally have the prospect of learning Zaheer’s true motivations.
Book 3, Chapter 2
Rebuilding the Air Nation turns out to be easier said than done, as Tenzin and Team Avatar struggle to convince the newly created airbenders to join them at the Northern Air Temple. It’s a realistic conflict, as they’re expecting people to uproot their entire lives and abandon their families because of a power that they never even asked to have. Bolin and Bumi convince them to put on a street show to draw crowds, and the result is far more amusing than any episode of “Nuktuk”. They manage to recruit one airbender, a young thief named Kai, whose shady past doesn’t sit right with Mako. Elsewhere, Zaheer breaks his associates Ghazan and Ming-hua out of their isolated prisons, and their bending powers (lavabending? Literal water arms???) are unlike anything that we’ve seen before.
28. CIVIL WARS PT. 1
Book 2, Chapter 3
The first episode of this two-parter is all about conflict between siblings, both politically and personally. Unalaq has ordered the Northern Navy to lockdown the South, which leads to Varrick sending a group of rebels to kidnap him as the conflict threatens to boil over into violence in the streets, with Korra stuck in between. It’s compelling to see Korra caught between her duties as the Avatar and her loyalties to her tribe, and it’s emotionally satisfying when she finally forgives her parents from keeping the truth of Tonraq’s banishment from her. Meanwhile, Ikki has run away from the Southern Air Temple, so Tenzin, Bumi and Kya set off to find her. While their bickering has plenty of great humour, it comes with a touch of melancholy, as we learn that Aang put much more time and energy into Tenzin than his other children, causing a rift between them that had yet to heal.
27. WELCOME TO REPUBLIC CITY
Book 1, Chapter 1
Legend of Korra’s premiere had a difficult job to do; how do you follow up a universally beloved series like ATLA, satisfy fan expectations, and set up an exciting adventure to hook viewers and keep them coming back for more? Well, “Welcome to Republic City” makes it look easy, immediately establishing the series as something new and exciting with a touch of the familiar thrown in. Korra has been training under the White Lotus for years, and from her very first scene, it’s abundantly clear that she is a far different protagonist than Aang – older, but not necessarily wiser. She’s confident to the point of arrogance, with an angry streak that’s closer to Zuko’s temperament than Aang’s ever was. Korra finally disobeys the orders of the White Lotus (with some encouragement from an elder Katara) and sneaks off to Republic City, a gorgeously rendered environment that utilizes a beautiful mix of hand-drawn and CG animation. Amongst all the meticulous world-building, character introductions and callbacks to ATLA, (Metalbenders! A Zuko’s mom joke!), the premiere also teases the impending introduction of the Equalists, some of the series’ most effective villains.
26. OPERATION BEIFONG
Book 4, Chapter 10
It’s a family affair in “Operation Beifong”, as Lin, Toph, Opal and Bolin travel to Zaofu to save Su and her family from Kuvira’s clutches. As their rescue plan takes shape, the previously estranged Lin and Toph are at each other’s throats. Zhu Li, one of Legend of Korra’s most underrated characters, has been playing the long game with Kuvira, and gets caught while attempting to sabotage her spirit vine superweapon. The Beifongs manage to escape with Zhu Li in tow, who breaks the news that Kuvira is planning to attack Republic City in a mere two weeks. There’s truly nothing like seeing all three of the Beifong women in action, and Toph still knows how to dish out zingers like the best of them.
Also, shoutout to my favorite sky bison Juicy, who just wants to be loved in spite of his mucus problems. You and me both, my guy.
25. A BREATH OF FRESH AIR
Book 3, Chapter 1
It’s been only two weeks since Vaatu nearly destroyed Republic City, and yet much has changed already. Immovable spirit vines cover the city streets, angering the populace and causing an even bigger rift between Korra and President Raiko. Most importantly, non-benders, including Bumi, have started displaying the ability to airbend. It’s a seismic shift to the status quo that sets Korra and Tenzin on a quest to rebuild the Air Nation, and it makes Book Two’s convoluted Spirit World shenanigans worth it. Plus, we’re given our introduction to Zaheer, an immediately fearsome villain who is clearly a force to be reckoned with. Even with all these plot developments, the premiere takes time to fit in some important character beats as well. The scene where Tenzin tells his children that he wishes Aang could be there to see these new airbenders is beautifully done, and it’s enjoyable to see Korra and Asami begin to finally become friends (and bond over Mako’s stupidity).
24. THE EARTH QUEEN
Book 3, Chapter 3
We finally get our first look at Ba Sing Se since the ATLA days, and things are decidedly not great. The ill-tempered Earth Queen refuses to help Korra find more airbenders unless she collects her tax payments for her, which leads to a fight between Korra and Asami and some fun, Mad Max-style bandits. It’s good to see Asami back in action again after being sidelined for most of Book Two. Meanwhile, Kai proves that he might not be trustworthy after all, using his new airbending powers to improve his pickpocketing. At the end of the day all he has to show for it is imprisonment, courtesy of everyone’s favorite secret police, the Dai Li, (these guys fought for Azula, and yet no one decided to disband them?). The episode’s most affecting moment comes when Mako and Bolin, having found themselves in the city’s poor lower ring, connect with their extended family who still live there. Their grandmother Yin shows them a picture of them with their parents, and Mako decides to give her his trusty red scarf that originally belonged to her son. I’m not crying, you’re crying.
23. HARMONIC CONVERGENCE
Book 2, Chapter 12
“Harmonic Convergence” ratchets up the tension for the end of Book Two considerably, as Korra tries and fails to close the spirit portal, allowing Vaatu to be released into the world. Unalaq finally reveals his grand plan: to fuse his body with Vaatu’s spirit and become a Dark Avatar, more powerful than Korra could ever be. If this reveal could’ve come slightly earlier in the season, then Unalaq might be remembered as a more captivating Big Bad. The battle between Unalaq’s forces and Team Avatar is tense and nail-biting, but the real star of the show is non-bender Bumi, whose unintentional destruction of Unalaq’s encampment is hilariously ridiculous and perfectly captures the spirit of his namesake.
22. THE REVELATION
Book 1, Chapter 3
This episode gives us our first real look at Amon, the Big Bad of Book One, and boy does it deliver. After Amon gives an ominous message about “accelerating [his] plans” in the premiere, we see Korra and Mako do battle in the streets against his Equalist thugs (whose chi-blocking fighting style will be familiar to fans of Ty Lee) who have captured Bolin. The episode culminates in a rally where Amon debuts the “revelation”; he has the power to take away someone’s bending, permanently. It’s a terrifying, mysterious development, and the action sequences really drive home just how dangerous the Equalists are going to be for the trio. Also, Pabu’s little street act could take all my yuans.
21. AND THE WINNER IS…
Book 1, Chapter 6
A smart transitional episode, this action-packed installment gives us the championship match between the Fire Ferrets and pretty boy Tahno and his Wolf Bats. The match is thrilling and frustrating to watch as the Wolf Bats use increasingly dirty tactics to win the championship. Their gloating is short lived however, when Amon follows through on his threat to attack the pro-bending arena, one of the most effective set pieces in a season full of them. The moment where members of the crowd attack the benders with their electric gloves is truly chilling, and it’s awesome to see some badass metalbending from Lin Beifong. Outside of the action scenes, this episode intelligently tackles some weighty themes, such as the value of entertainment during times of crisis and if and when it’s appropriate to capitulate to terrorists.
20. THE CALLING
Book 4, Chapter 4
Meelo, Ikki and Jinora have been tasked with finding Korra, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. This is the first time we’ve seen these young airbenders off on their own, and their family dynamic is both hilarious and relatable. The episode is filled with endearing character beats, from Ikki’s spot-on mockery of her siblings to Meelo’s adorable meeting of “the love of his life”, Tuyen. Back in the Foggy Swamp, Korra suffers visions of each of the past Big Bads, which Toph explains is the Swamp’s way of trying to teach Korra something. “You can’t expect to deal with future enemies if you’re still fighting the old ones.” Sound advice that all of us could stand to follow. With encouragement from Toph and the siblings, Korra is finally able to overcome her past fears. In a triumphant moment, she bends the remaining poison out of herself and enters the Avatar State once again. Avatar Korra is back, baby.
19. OLD WOUNDS
Book 3, Chapter 6
The Lin-centric episode we didn’t know we needed finds Beifong digging up old memories of her mother and sister, with long-hidden resentments boiling over into an all-out brawl between the two sisters, (once Su brought Tenzin into it, all bets were off). But as Bolin says to Korra, “You don’t have any siblings. Fighting is part of the healing process,” and sure enough, Su and Lin end up finally reconciling, acknowledging each other’s growth and promising to be better to one another. Lin Beifong had always been one of the series’ most enigmatic characters, but this episode helps break down the hardened facade to show the person underneath.
18. BEYOND THE WILDS
Book 4, Chapter 9
Things start to ramp up in “Beyond the Wilds”, where spirit vines are attacking and capturing people in the streets of Republic City due to Kuvira’s harvesting of the vines from the Foggy Swamp. Unable to enter the Spirit World to save them due to her past traumas, Korra decides to face her fears and visit Zaheer in prison. What follows is the best scene of the season up to that point, where Zaheer tells Korra that she’s choosing to hold herself back, and that her power is limitless if she can overcome her fears. It’s an unexpected turn from a one-time Big Bad, and it serves to further illuminates Zaheer’s intriguing complexity. Bolin and Varrick are back in Republic City, and Opal is understandably giving Bolin the cold shoulder, (being chummy with a dictator will earn that for you). When Fire Lord Izumi and Tenzin refuse to agree to an offensive against Kuvira, Lin, Opal and Bolin decide to take matters into their own hands and rescue their family.
17. DARKNESS FALLS
Book 2, Chapter 13
Konietzko and di Martino know that the sting of defeat makes the victory even sweeter, and never is that ethos clearer than in “Darkness Falls”. Korra, Mako and Bolin fail to stop Unalaq, who successfully fuses with Vaatu to become a Dark Avatar. In a truly shocking twist, Vaatu sucks the spirit of Raava out of Korra’s body and destroys it, seemingly eliminating the entire line of Avatars all the way back to Wan. Meanwhile, Tenzin, Kya and Bumi are searching for Jinora in the Spirit World, where they find themselves in the Fog of Lost Souls, where humans are driven mad by their darkest memories. Tenzin comes across the spirit of Aang (and Commander Zhao!) who tells him that he is his own man, and that he needs to live his life as such. It’s a beautiful moment of self-actualization for Tenzin, and J.K. Simmons really sells it.
16. LIGHT IN THE DARK
Book 2, Chapter 14
A visually spectacular ending to a so-so season, “Light in the Dark” makes room for several bold narrative choices that shift the entire status quo of the Avatar universe. With Unavaatu on their way to destroy Republic City, Korra has to learn to connect with her inner spirit and bend the energy inside her to defeat him. It all leads to a massive battle that evokes the best of the kaiju genre, culminating with Jinora’s soul descending from the heavens (bit of an ex-machina, but oh well) and infusing Unavaatu with the spirit of Raava, allowing Korra to cleanse his spirit of darkness. While Korra is able to fuse with Raava once again, her connection to her past lives remains severed. In one final twist, Korra decides to leave the spirit portals open, allowing humans and spirits to learn to live together in balance once again. It’s a moment that shows that Korra has come a long way from the girl who could never enter the Avatar State and promises exciting developments for the rest of the series.
15. OUT OF THE PAST
Book 1, Chapter 9
Imprisoned by Tarrlok somewhere outside of Republic City, Korra finally gets in touch with her spiritual side, learning through visions of Aang that Tarrlok is the son of Yakone, an infamous criminal and bloodbender who was strong enough to bloodbend an entire courtroom full of people simultaneously, without the use of a full moon. The flashbacks to Yakone’s trial are expertly edited in throughout, and there’s nothing quite like getting to see an adult Aang at the full extent of his powers. Also, it’s good to know that no matter how old they got, Toph never stopped calling Aang, “twinkle toes”. Oh, and just in case Amon wasn’t terrifying enough, the guy resists being bloodbended and takes away Tarrlok’s bending. If that’s not an effective villain, I don’t know what is.
14. BEGINNINGS PT 1
Book 2, Chapter 7
The first of Book Two’s massive lore dumps finds Korra learning the history of Wan, the first Avatar. Wan was a poor man gifted the ability to firebend by a lion turtle who set off into the wilds and became friends with the spirits, learning how to better his bending by living harmoniously with them. Wan ends up freeing Vaatu, the spirit of darkness and chaos, from the clutches of Raava, the spirit of light and peace, inadvertently setting the spirit and human realms on the path to destruction. It’s great to see flashes of past Avatars like Roku and Kyoshi, and the sequences about Wan are gorgeously animated, with a beautiful art style that evokes classic East Asian art, and Wan’s roguish attitude, (and a winning performance from Steven Yeun) make him easy to root for. While it can’t help but feel like a slight pumping of the brakes of Book Two’s momentum, it is undoubtedly a step up from the season’s middling first half.
13. A NEW SPIRITUAL AGE
Book 1, Chapter 6
A deep dive into the Spirit World like we’ve never seen before, “A New Spiritual Age” finds Korra and Jinora getting separated by the spirits, with both of them running into some familiar faces along the way. Jinora comes across owl spirit Wan Shi Tong’s desert library, (he’s still a dick, unsurprisingly), and Korra comes across the spirit of Iroh, who teaches her some lessons about the importance of finding the light in the face of darkness. There’s nothing more heartwarming than seeing Iroh dishing out tea and imparting nuggets of wisdom like he used to, and Greg Baldwin gives a great performance. The episode ends on an effective cliffhanger, with Unalaq capturing Jinora and forcing Korra to open the other spirit portal, setting the stage for Vaatu to break free from his cage once again.
12. LONG LIVE THE QUEEN
Book 3, Chapter 10
It all starts to hit the fan in “Long Live the Queen” as Zaheer and his crew deliver Mako and Bolin to the Earth Queen in the hopes of exchanging them for the Avatar. After hearing on the radio that Korra’s airship has crashed in the desert, Zaheer decides to escalate their plans. In a truly terrifying scene, he airbends the breath right out of the Earth Queen’s body and suffocates her with it. It’s a jaw-dropping moment that would be shockingly brutal on any show, much less one with a Y-7 rating. As if that wasn’t enough, Zaheer announces to the citizens that their queen’s reign has come to an abrupt end, and that the city is now theirs. Ghazan lavabends the walls of Ba Sing Se and tears them down, something that the entire Fire Nation could never accomplish through decades of war. In case you were unsure of just how dangerous the Red Lotus is, this ruthless episode makes it abundantly clear.
11. WHEN EXTREMES MEET
Book 1, Chapter 8
After suffering another defeat at the hands of the Equalists, Team Avatar relocates to Air Temple Island, where Meelo becomes adorably infatuated with Asami. Meanwhile, Tarrlok seizes the opportunity to enact strict martial law against the city’s non-benders. The scenes of peacefully protesting non-benders being arrested for no reason and Tarrlok’s usage of a crisis to abuse law enforcement powers are scarily relevant, showing just how unafraid the series’ creators were of addressing overtly political themes head on. The ending duel between Tarrlok and Korra is thrillingly done, and the reveal of Tarrlok’s bloodbending is an excellent bit of fan service that had my jaw on the floor the first time I saw it.
10. DAY OF THE COLOSSUS
Book 4, Chapter 12
Team Avatar throws everything they have at Kuvira’s colossus, from paint balloons to electromagnetic pulses to an entire building, but it just keeps coming. Prince Wu proves that he might be a worthy king after all by saving Pema and the rest of civilians with his trusty badgermoles (and amusing songs). Varrick’s proposal to Zhu Li is perfect, and each member of the supporting cast gets their moment to shine. However, the real hero ends up being Hiroshi Sato, who outfits the Hummingbird mechs with plasma torches so that they can cut a hole through the platinum shell of the colossus. The moment where he says goodbye to his daughter and sacrifices himself is chill-inducing, and makes for the perfect end to his arc of redemption. Well done, Mr. Sato.
9. SKELETONS IN THE CLOSET
Book 1, Chapter 11
An exposition-heavy episode with brilliant pacing, this installment starts off with a massive battle between the United Forces ships and Equalist biplanes and depth charges, all of which serve as a showcase for the show’s gorgeous 3D animation. Korra and Mako infiltrate Air Temple Island and find Tarrlok, who reveals that Amon is actually his brother Noatok, a powerful waterbender and bloodbender from the Northern Water Tribe. It’s an effective twist, and the flashbacks to Tarrlok’s youth drive show how Amon was twisted into a cold and ruthless man, and how Tarrlok lost his way while striving to be a good one. This episode shows us why Tarrlok and Amon are remembered as such great villains; at the end of the day, they were just boys, unwittingly shaped by their father’s abuse into instruments of hate. It makes their eventual demise even more tragic, and conveys just how mature Legend of Korra’s storytelling could be.
8. THE STAKEOUT
Book 3, Chapter 9
“The Stakeout” raises as many questions as answers as Korra finally learns some of Zaheer’s true motives. After tracking Aiwei to an Earth Kingdom village, Korra enters the Spirit World and finds Zaheer, who tells her that she deserves answers. He reveals that he’s part of the Red Lotus, a splinter group of the White Lotus, whose aim is to create a new world order through chaos and anarchy. But their conversation isn’t simply “bad guy posturing”; Zaheer presents himself as the other side of the same coin, claiming, “I want what you want: to restore balance to the world.” While Zaheer doesn’t convert Korra to his cause, it’s clear that his ideas are well-thought out enough to give her pause. It’s scenes like this that make Zaheer one of the best villains not only in the Avatar universe, but in any story; he’s just a man trying to do what he thinks is right, and is willing to do whatever it takes to make it happen. That kind of evil will always be scarier and more insidious than the mustache-twirling variety.
Book 1, Chapter 12
ATLA was always known for its stellar season finales, and the tradition continued with “Endgame”, an action-packed, pulse-pounding climax that gives everyone in the main cast their moment to shine, including Naga and Pabu. Amon is finally defeated, and in a bleak twist, his brother Tarrlok blows up their escape boat, killing them both in the process. It’s a bold creative choice to unambiguously show their death onscreen, and it’s heartbreakingly effective. The finale ends with Korra, who had been de-bended by Amon, finally reaching a spiritual awakening. The spirit of Aang comes to her, restoring her bending and sending her into the Avatar State for the first time. She has officially become Avatar Korra, and it’s a fist-pumping moment if ever there was one. Also, if General Iroh’s “Thanks for looking out for me, Aang” doesn’t make you shed at least a single tear, then I don’t know what’s wrong with you.
6. THE ULTIMATUM
Book 3, Chapter 11
Just when you think things can’t get any worse, Zaheer has to go and prove you wrong. Mako and Bolin find Korra and deliver Zaheer’s ultimatum: give yourself over to me, or the new Air Nation will be destroyed. It’s an agonizing choice, one that Korra turns to both the spirit of Iroh and Zuko for guidance. Team Avatar makes their way to Zaofu to try and radio Tenzin at the Northern Air Temple, but by the time they get a hold of him, it’s too late. Zaheer and his crew have arrived, and what follows is a white-knuckle intense fight that sees the airbenders either scattered or trapped with no way out. “As long as I’m breathing, it’s not over,” Tenzin says as Zaheer tries to get him to surrender, and the image of him backed against a wall, brutally beaten but still holding on, is gut-wrenching to see.
5. THE LAST STAND
Book 4, Chapter 13
The Legend of Korra ends as it began, with incredibly satisfying character beats mixed in with edge-of-your-seat action. Korra finally defeats Kuvira, but their conflict comes to its end not with violence, but with words. Where once Korra might have dealt with Kuvira in anger, she now does so with compassion. It’s a beautifully done full-circle moment, as Korra finally creates balance not only within the world, but within herself. In the end, every character, from Mako to Bolin to Asami, has grown and changed in exactly the way that they were meant to. At the end of it all, we are left with a remarkable final shot that serves as a landmark moment for LGBTQ representation in children’s media and helped change the face of kid’s TV forever. As far as legacies go, that’s not too shabby.
4. ENTER THE VOID
Book 3, Chapter 12
Even the best laid plans can go awry, and never is that truer than in “Enter the Void”. Korra agrees to give herself up to Zaheer in exchange for the airbenders, falling right into the Red Lotus’ trap. The Northern Air Temple is destroyed and Korra is captured and chained up in a mysterious cave. The episode is packed with extraordinary action beats, from P’Li’s harsh demise to Zaheer demonstrating his ability to fly. After most of a season spent trying to metalbend, Bolin’s last-minute lavabending is an incredibly satisfying triumph. However, the episode’s most effective moment is also its quietest, as Zaheer and P’Li reaffirm their love for another. It’s a small scene that works greatly to humanize these two characters, proving that they’re much more than just generic villains.
3. BEGINNINGS PT. 2
Book 2, Chapter 8
One of the best lore episodes in the entire Avatar universe, the rest of the tale of Avatar Wan is impactful and emotionally fulfilling. Faced with annihilation by the dark spirit Vaatu, Wan travels the world and gains bending from the other lion turtles before facing off against Vaatu in the place where the spirit and human worlds meet: the South Pole. The resulting battle between Wan, Raava and Vaatu ranks among the absolute best in the franchise, and the moment where Raava and Wan become one to defeat Vaatu is exhilarating with everyone involved behind-the-scenes doing some of their very best work. Wan’s story is one that feels like the writers had been waiting forever to tell, and it illuminates everything that came before it.
2. KORRA ALONE
Book 4, Chapter 2
After being absent for most of the premiere, Korra appropriately takes center stage in this episode, which fills us in on her struggles to recover since almost being killed by Zaheer. As Katara tells Korra on her return to the South Pole, the poison took a toll on her body, but if she dedicates herself to getting better, she will recover stronger than ever. Unable to enter the Avatar State, Korra struggles over the next three years with her depression and PTSD, which often manifests as a dark vision of herself during her fight with Zaheer. Mostly actionless, this episode takes its time to show how thoroughly broken down Korra has become and sets up her season-long journey towards recovery.
The importance of this storyline cannot be overstated, not just to Legend of Korra, but to children’s entertainment in general. Korra’s struggle with mental health and trauma and her ability to overcome it sends a vital message to young viewers that might be experiencing similar struggles. Korra’s journey demonstrates that recovery isn’t a straight line, and that the small victories you gain along the way are incredibly important.
“What am I going to find if I get through this?”
“I don’t know. But won’t it be interesting to find out?”
1. VENOM OF THE RED LOTUS
Book 3, Chapter 13
A beautifully rendered Pyrrhic victory that evokes the best of “Sozin’s Comet” and “Crossroads of Destiny” while also forging a new path, “Venom of the Red Lotus” showcases some of the most emotional storytelling that the Avatar franchise has to offer. Korra, her body filled with a poison meant to send her into the Avatar State, breaks free from her chains and goes after Zaheer in a no-holds barred duel in the skies. Mako and Bolin have their own final confrontations against Ming-hua and Ghazan that are some of the most electrifying bending battles ever seen. With the help of the airbenders, Korra is finally able to defeat Zaheer, but the Red Lotus’ poison almost takes her life in the process.
The beginning of this season addressed the great weight of responsibility that comes with being the Avatar, and the end of the finale drives this theme home to devastating effect. As Asami helps a wheelchair ridden Korra prepare for Jinora’s tattoo ceremony, she says, “No one expects you to bounce back right away.” Except they do, and they always will, as both President Raiko and Lord Zuko point out that the world is still chaos, and the people need their Avatar more than ever. Tenzin realizes that Korra can’t shoulder this burden alone, and in a tear-jerking moment enhanced by Jeremy Zuckerman’s breathtaking score, he declares that the Air Nomads will return to their roaming ways, aiding others and encouraging peace wherever they can. It all ends with the series’ most affecting moment, a gut-punch of a final shot that sticks with you long after the credits have rolled.